with Katherine Nolan.† Conducted by James Triesler at the Veterans of the
Nolan: My name is
Katherine Nolan. My friends call me Kate. I am from
††††††††††† I joined
the 53rd field hospital at
††††††††††† When we
started getting the wounded in, it would keep going on for 24 maybe 48 hours or
more, as long as the fighting was going on, and weíd be getting incoming
wounded. Nobody would get off of duty or even take a break until every last
patient was out of surgery and there were no more wounded coming in. Weíd keep
the patients about 5 to 7 days, and by that time they would usually be strong
enough to send them back to the evac hospital. When
we would receive the patients, theyíd be deep in shock so we had shock teams
that would treat them first and as soon as they were stabilized they would go
to X-ray and right into surgery. Theyíd be in surgery within a couple of hours
of their arrival. We got mostly chest and belly wounds. Some were amputations
but usually those also had a chest or belly wound. Usually with an amputation,
you were able to control the bleeding using a tourniquet†† or something so that they could be
transported back to the evac to have that done. We
had three platoons to each field hospital and we operated as three separate
hospitals with different locations. Sometimes we didnít see the other platoons for
months and at times we were 100 miles or more apart. Each platoon had a dentist
and we were surprised to find that the dentist was spending more time in
surgery wiring jaws and assisting surgeons than spending time doing the usual
dental work like fillings and so forth. I donít think the dentists ever got any
credit for that. People just think dentists never really do much except for
what they usually do at home. When they did fill teeth which were usually with
the person in her outfit, they used a bicycle like machine and the corpsman
would sit on that and pedal and the faster he pedaled the faster the drill
would go, but it wasnít really fast enough. I just wanted to give the dentists
a little praise. We went from
Triesler: Did you have the opportunity to see General Patton or any of the leadership while you were serving?
Nolan: No, I
never did.† Toward the end, we were
transferred to the 9th Army.†
We were with the British at that point, under General Montgomery.† Our American general was General Simpson, but
he was under General Montgomery, so we had a lot of British patients at that
time.† All through the war we also had
German prisoners.† When our troops would
pick up our wounded, they would pick up the German wounded too and bring them
in.† Often when they first came in they
would be uncooperative, once they had had surgery.† Before that when they came in, they were too
far out of it to know what was going on.†
After a couple of days, when they were given less pain killers so they
were more with it, they were sullen and sometimes uncooperative.† When they saw that they were getting the same
treatment as the GIís, their attitude changed very quickly.† I think they were happy to be in our field
hospital and out of the war.† I had one
officer, he was a Second Lieutenant.† He
spoke perfect English and had been educated in
Triesler: So they kept the prisoners in the same area as the GIís?†
Triesler: Did the prisoners ever try to escape?
Nolan: They were too sick.
Triesler: How did the cold weather impact your supplies?†
Nolan:† I donít remember too much about that.† I donít remember having any problems with the supplies at that time.
Triesler: You mentioned that your future husband was in the Service.† Did you have any other siblings or relatives that were also in the Service?
Nolan: I had one cousin who was in the Navy, but no other immediate family.†
Triesler: Where did your husband end up fighting?
Nolan:† He ended up in
Triesler: Earlier, you mentioned that the medical personnel donít usually receive the recognition for their hard work, and I wondered what your thoughts might be.†
Nolan: Well, as I mentioned to you, they donít quite get to that in the documentaries.† They show the soldiers being wounded, and it shows them picking them up and carrying them to the ambulance or jeep, but they donít show where they take them.† They never show the hospitals.† In one film I know they show a French hospital where they took some people, but it was just a makeshift setup.† We had excellent surgeons.† We had surgical teams and shock teams.† We often did the shock teams ourselves, but sometimes we had other teams sent to us too.† We always had surgical teams that came from the best medical facilities in the country, such as Mass General and Johns-Hopkins.† I mean, they were top drawer surgical teams.† We were not expected to have a good survival rate, but we did.† We had a 97% survival rate, and that was for two reasons.† First, we were close enough to the front that they could get them to us usually within an hour.† We could start the shock treatment immediately: get them stabilized, get them to x-ray, and get them to surgery.† Once they had their surgery, as serious as it was, most of them made excellent progress, because they were young and healthy to begin with before they were injured.† Usually by the time that we transferred them, they were doing very well, but they had a long way to go.† A lot of them had further surgeries.† Those with abdominal injuries usually ended up with colostomies.† We did temporary ones, so that later on in the general hospital they could have the two ends joined and put back together.† Hopefully they wouldnít be wearing the colostomy bags all their lives.† We were very proud of the work that went on in the field hospitals.† The poor medics that went out with the troops never got any recognition.† They would often give the patient a first shot of morphine and stop the bleeding right under the enemyís eyes.† Then they would drag them out of firing range.† Of course the patient would get the Purple Heart, and the poor medic, who was doing this every day and risking his life, never got anything.† Naturally, they wouldnít get a combat infantry badge, but I think they should have gotten something.†
Triesler: I spoke to a medic earlier this year and he mentioned that he received very little training because they rushed him into service.† He learned a lot on the job.† Do you feel that a lot of your learning came after you arrived in the field hospital? Did you have an opportunity to be pretty well prepared or was there sort of a balance there that you learn what youíre doing?
Nolan: Well, all the training that you go through, how to set up a hospital and all that, once you get in the field, itís nothing like that. You are improvising all the time. Things youíre supposed to have, you donít have. You learn that you have to do things in a hurry in a field hospital. So you make do with what you have.
Triesler: Well just about learning sort of ďon the job,Ē I know Mince said that crawling under barbed wire with the machine guns set above their heads in training, they kind of knew they werenít going to be shot.
Triesler: And then when they got into battle, it was completely sort of ďon the jobĒ training, and was a different environment and I was wondering to what degree. And I think you answered that well.
Nolan: Our core man at the 53rd hospital would train into other jobs too. The core man could get out there and pitch the tent if they had to. They were all cross trained so that they could fill in for each other, and I think that was important.
Triesler: Did your hospital come under fire very often since it was so close to the front lobby?
Nolan: Yeah, we were shelled.. We werenít bombed but other hospitals were.
Triesler: What can you do in those situations? Where can you hide? How can you tend the patients? What do you do?
Nolan: We couldnít leave the patients. We had to stay with them, so we usually put them on the ground under the cots, and we got down on the ground with them. Sometimes we had fox holes but we usually didnít have time to dig fox holes so there really wasnít any place to go anyways. We got hit a couple of times, and one time they set a tent on fire. Fortunately, there were no patients in it; it was one of the tents that the core man slipped in. But often, we were supposed to be able to set up in three hours and be ready to receive the wounded. Sometimes they started coming before the three hours were up, so we learned to set the tents up, not in the order that we were taught, but as they were coming in. So we set up the shock tent receiving first, and then got the x-rays set up, then the surgeries set up, and then the post stop. So that by the time they got through those processes, weíd be ready for them. Often we didnít get time to put up our personal tents; for days we would be sleeping on the ground outside, not too often but a few times it would happen.††
Triesler: I saw in the movie about General Patten that he got in great trouble for hitting a patient. I wondered, was that anything you would have been aware of during the war?
Nolan: Oh yeah, it was in the Stars and Stripes, which was a little newspaper that we got once a week. It was in there, and there was a lot of controversy about that. Patten was a great warrior. Heíd tell his troops before they go into battle, ďItís not your duty to die for your country,0 itís your duty to make the other poor son of a b**** die for his.Ē Of course it was a good point, I thought. I knew it was killed, or be killed.
Triesler: When the Bulge began, were you overrun in any point? How much were you threatened?
Nolan: Well, at one point, we were up on a hill in plain site and we of course we had red crosses on top of the tents, with a big tarp between them and the ground so the aircraft could see the Red Cross. This one day, we heard tanks coming; we quickly learned the sound of the tanks, which ones were ours and which ones were theirs. Theirs were bigger, heavier, better built, and louder. They had a different clank. In the aircraft, we could tell the difference too. So first we heard these tanks coming, and everybody thought they sounded like German tanks. We looked down and German tanks were coming down the road, but when they got to where we were on the hill, they kept on going. Iím sure thatís because they also knew that we had their patients in our tents, and we were taking care of them too. They had captured another field hospital during the bulge. That could have happened but it didnít.
Triesler: When they recaptured the field hospital, do you think they would allow it to continue functioning in any manner, or just send the people back as prisoners?
Nolan: Well some interesting things went by. There was one field hospital, not ours, and there had been a battle, hand to hand, so when our people were picking up the wounded, they noticed the Germans were not picking theres up right away. Then, some soldier came across with the white flag, and he had a note from the German commander asking to borrow litters. No, first he wanted to know if we had any penicillin that he could borrow, and so we gave him some. Then, the next thing we know, he sent another note and said, ďI think that it would be a better idea if you picked our wounded along with yours.Ē We ended up with all these extra prisoners we didnít expect.
Triesler: Now that created a lot more work for you though.
Nolan: Yeah well this wasnít my hospital, this was another one.
Triesler: When you came home, were there any parades that you could get to see?
Nolan: Oh no, now thatís another thing. All the
Triesler: So you think the excitement had kind of died down?
Nolan: Oh yeah. We didnít come home in big groups, maybe a few at a time.
Triesler- I wanted to ask you about the airplanes. You said you can tell the difference between theirs and ours. I was wondering if you could describe what the difference might have been as far as the sound goes.
Nolan: Well for one thing, even before the sounds, we could see the
planes if it wasnít foggy or night time; ours were silver. The British planes
were not silver, but we knew the sounds of the British planes too because we
spent three months in